Russian Space Industry Gets ‘Second Wind’ With New Launch Site

Russia’s space industry is getting a “second wind” with a new launch center near China, which cuts the reliance on the Soviet-era Baikonur cosmodrome in Central Asia, said Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin.

“We have to create a new geopolitical center in the east of the country and the cosmodrome will become its reference point,” Rogozin, a former ambassador to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization who was appointed in December to oversee the military industry, told reporters in Moscow today following a government meeting led by President-elect Vladimir Putin.

The effort to build the Vostochny center is comparable in scale to Soviet-era electrification or the Baikal-Amur rail link spanning Lake Baikal with the Far East, Rogozin said. Baikonur’s share of Russian launches should drop to 11 percent by 2020 from 65 percent in 2010, according to the Federal Space Agency.

The government is spending 150 billion rubles ($5 billion) on its space program this year, including 30 billion on the new facility in the Amur region, which is expected to handle its first rocket launches by 2015 and manned missions by 2018, Putin said.

Russia, which today celebrated the 51st anniversary of manned space flight, has experienced setbacks including the failure in November of the Phobos probe to Mars. Last August, it lost its most powerful telecommunications satellite and a cargo-supply ship destined for the International Space Station.

Catalyst for Development

“Creating the cosmodrome will serve as a catalyst for development of the entire Far East region, fully helping to utilize the industrial potential of the Far East and Siberia,” Putin said today.

Speaking yesterday in his final address to the lower house of parliament as premier, Putin reiterated his pre-election pledge to spend 23 trillion rubles over the next decade to upgrade the country’s military and use the defense industry to generate demand for innovation and technology. The premier also stressed the strategic importance of reversing Russia’s demographic decline.

Russia leases Baikonur from Kazakhstan under a contract due to expire in 2050 and uses the military Plesetsk Cosmodrome in the northern Arkhangelsk region.

A science city will be built near the launch center, which will also handle planned missions to the moon, Rogozin said. The project will help staunch the depopulation of the area, he said.

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